Excerpts of Today’s Media Update
We’re highlighting portions of the media update that seem relevant, but we encourage you to watch the full update. If you find a part that seems like it should be called out here, let us know.
The governor showed a breakdown of hospitalizations and ICU utilization by public health region.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson [6:17]:
This is really something I wanted to concentrate on today. As Dr. Smith has indicated, we regularly look at the tracing — contact tracing — as to where our positive cases might be coming from. And so, the question would be — in the 14 days prior to diagnosis, have the active cases visited the following types of businesses? And just because they visit one business doesn’t mean they contracted COVID there. But it is still a relevant question for our information purposes. And so, restaurants, 114 indicated that, which is 2% of all of them that have been interviewed. Barber shops, 0.6%. Churches, we’re going to spend some more time on that. We’ve had 95 indicate that, 2% of the total. Daycare, gymnasiums, health and wellness, a hotel or motel. And since bars have been in the news lately, because of today and some action by different states, even though it’s not listed here, the question is asked about bars separately. And that’s less than 2 percent. And so, from that, the conclusion is that we do not have the correlation between lifting any restrictions and opening of these regulated — well, not all regulated — but these particular business areas with the expansion in cases.
|Health and Wellness (doctor’s office, dentist, etc.)||97||2%|
|Hotel or motel||20||0.4%|
And we do want to talk about churches a little bit, because if you look at clusters, the only place here that we have a cluster of cases would be in some specific churches. And if you go to the next slide, here is the number of cases associated with church settings in Arkansas. The blue, whenever there is one to two cases that are in a church, and the red is whenever there is what you’d consider more of a cluster —two to 11, or two or more cases. And you can see from the red that there is a couple of different churches that actually have had clusters of cases. Now, let me emphasize that 98% of our churches are fully following the guidelines that have been presented. They are being so careful and protecting their congregants but we’ve had a couple of instances — as reflected here — where they did not follow the guidelines and it’s resulted in some clusters of cases. And so, that’s something that we encourage our pastors and our churches to realize the consequence of not following the guidelines. You can have a number of cases break out and you can actually have some very ill people and people that can die from this virus.
And that is the other place that we’ve obviously had clusters which is in the poultry business — 851 active cases. We’ve had 1,600 recovered and so that’s we’ll leave that there.
I do want to make one announcement today and that is that as an additional compliance resource and to supplement our health department inspection units, I’ve asked our Alcoholic Beverage Control officers to be engaged, and they will be directed to report to the Department of Health any restaurants or bars which does not comply with public health directives. And again, I think they’re doing a very good job out there, but there’s a few outliers. And we do not want those outliers to be a reason to close down some business. And so, let’s be successful there. And this additional inspection and resource capability for reviewing compliance will be very helpful to us.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nathaniel Smith [12:38]:
I do want to re-emphasize some of the points the governor made about where the epidemiology is showing us that we’re having cases.
Typically, in a communicable disease outbreak setting, if it’s associated with the business or some other venue, we’ll go to that business and venue, we’ll do the contact tracing, we’ll identify ways to interrupt transmission. If we can do that without closing the facility down, we’ll do that, of course. If for some reason we can’t do that, then we will typically close a facility temporarily.
But what we did in response to COVID-19 of curtailing a lot of businesses I think was an important step to halt the spread.
But now, in this phase, we are taking a more targeted approach, the way we do with other communicable diseases. So, we’re looking carefully to see where the cases are coming from. The governor’s mentioned that these businesses that we’re monitoring, we’ve not seen clusters, we’ve not seen active transmission in those settings.
The two settings that we have seen, of course, these poultry-related businesses, particularly in the northwest part of the state, but in other parts of the state as well. And we’ve worked very closely with those businesses to try and identify ways to interrupt transmission, make those places safer. And I think we’re largely succeeding. We’re starting to see a decrease in the number of cases in the northwest part of the state. We’ll continue working with them. The CDC team that’s up there is also including that as part of their recommendations. And so, hopefully we’ll have even additional recommendations for how to interrupt transmission in in those settings.
The other setting that the governor mentioned is our places of worship. Now, those places of worship that have implemented the guidelines that we put out, we’re not seeing evidence of transmission. There are certainly cases. As you’ve seen from the map, those blue dots where you have one or two cases —if your place of worship is open to the public, then it’s likely that you may have someone who has COVID-19 who comes to a worship service. But then, did that participation and the worship service lead to additional cases? In those cases where the places of worship have followed those guidelines, we’ve not seen additional cases. However, there have been some places of worship that have not followed those guidelines or have not implemented them effectively or fully. And we have seen, in some of those settings, these clusters that were indicated by the red dots. And it’s not a particular part of the state. It’s not a particular church. It’s really what happens in that church or place of worship. If those guidelines are followed, we know that they either minimize or eliminate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. When those guidelines are not followed, then there is that chance. And tragically, it can cause a spread of COVID-19 in those settings. And that’s what we’ve had in in a number of cases. As we’re going into the weekend if you’re going to a place of worship, encourage your fellow participants to follow those guidelines and those who are in charge of the services to follow those guidelines, to keep everyone safe.
If you’ve identified churches as a potential place where this is spreading, is there a reason not to make them have mandatory rules that they have to follow like restaurants or other businesses?
Governor Hutchinson [16:45]:
In terms of the guidelines we provide, I fully respect the separation between government action and the role of the church. And so, I’ve avoided giving directives to the church, but they know these are important guidelines, and by-and-large they’re being followed. In instances where see that they are not being followed, we will call the pastor, we’ll call the church leaders we’ll talk to them through it, we will address it in that fashion. And that has gotten the attention and they really want to protect their parishioners. So, that’s been successful.
Dr. Smith [14:45]:
In the settings where we’ve identified these clusters, those places of worship have either temporarily stopped meeting, stopped having services, or we’ve worked with them to try — well, not to try — to implement those guidelines effectively. I don’t think anyone intentionally puts their members at risk. I think sometimes either people, for whatever reason, they struggle to implement those guidelines or they have miscalculated the risk in their congregation. Unfortunately, once there is a cluster, then that risk is recalculated and people generally adhere to the guidelines after that.
The reason why I’m making this point, though, is for places of worship that currently aren’t implementing the guidelines or they’re not implementing them fully or they’re implementing them but wondering whether it’s worth it. It definitely is worth it because, again, those places that are implementing the guidelines, even if someone comes in who has a case and is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, we’re not seeing spread of COVID-19 in that setting. But unfortunately, the places where we are is where those guidelines are not being implemented.
Do you know how many Alcoholic Beverage Control officers are being directed to report to ADH and what will happen to restaurants and bars who are found not in compliance with the directives?
Governor Hutchinson [19:25]:
We’d have to get you that number, specifically. Of course, we have a statewide reach there. But they would be asked to report to the Department of Health so the Department of Health can do the compliance work on it. But it’s an additional eyes and ears that — right now, the Department of Health responds to complaints. And so, the ABC officers are more in the field, they’re going through there and making sure that the ABC laws are followed. And so, they see a lot. And so, we want them to be able to be an encouragement to the restaurant owners, remind them of the public health guidelines, and if there’s not compliance, certainly to refer that to the Department of Health.
With Florida and Texas closing bars and rolling back restrictions, is there a point where you would consider the same?
Governor Hutchinson [20:22]:
If the data showed that we’re having outbreaks as a result of bars not following guidelines and resulting in positive cases that demonstrate a problem, then certainly we would take action. But that has not been the case. And today’s review is actually very timely, based on what’s happening in some other states. But we will follow that. We will base our judgment based upon the actions of industry, as well as what we see in our contact tracing, as to the source of any community spread.
In Little Rock, the mayor issued an executive order yesterday. Do you feel like that conflicts with your emergency declaration? Or do you have any other opinion about it?
Governor Hutchinson [21:15]:
Yes, I did actually review the proclamation. And the proclamation, by its own language, is supportive of the state directives. And I particularly would go to — it’s actually page 7 of the 12 page directive that says, “This Emergency Declaration does not require any person wear a Face Covering while driving a motor vehicle, in a private business open to the public, or as otherwise mandated by the Governor of the State of Arkansas or the Secretary of Health.” And so, he’s brought this directive — or this proclamation — under the umbrella of the state and has yielded to the state guidance. I’d also say that, in essence, this proclamation is an encouragement for people to wear masks. That’s what it is. It’s an encouragement for people to wear masks. I fully support that, and it is consistent with the state guidelines on wearing masks.
Note: The emergency declaration does actually require masks in certain situations. Section 3.01 reads, “All members of the public, except as specifically exempted herein, are required to wear a face covering in all public places except when it is likely that physical distancing of at least six (6) feet from other individuals is practicable.” The exceptions in Sections 4 and 5 outline the exceptions, some of which appear to be those that would otherwise be restricting commerce. In those exceptions, the public is “exhorted to wear a Face Covering outside their home or other place they reside” by the Little Rock emergency declaration.
My question comes from a business owner who reached out to me yesterday and wanted me to bring this to your attention. Now, he currently requires masks inside of his business. But the issue he is facing is, with no state mandatory masks order, it makes him and other businesses who want to require masks look like the bad guy and risk losing customers when someone comes in without one. So, his question to you is — why won’t you impose mandatory mask rules, when it could give businesses relief and a cover in situations where customers are being difficult?
Governor Hutchinson [23:07]:
Well, I’m sympathetic to the business owners that have a challenge with customers. And shame on the customers. This is something that’s emphasized nationally. You would have to be asleep under a log somewhere not to know that wearing a mask protects others and protects yourself.
And so, if anyone comes into a restaurant and they behave inappropriately, if they’re causing the disturbance, they’re asked to leave. Well, if they come in and they’re not willing to comply with the directives, that’s the responsibility of the business owner to make sure that there is compliance or that customer is asked to leave.
And so, our answer to it is — we want to make sure there’s equal enforcement of that. And when there’s a gap out there, we hope to be able to make sure those non-compliant restaurants or customers — if they’re going into a restaurant — are alerted to it, they’re called upon to comply with those guidelines. And so, I think that’s the right approach and that’s how we’re proceeding.
Yesterday, [Arkansas] Secretary of State John Thurston issued a statement on absentee ballot procedures for the upcoming general election. And he said, according to the statement, if citizens are voters are unavoidably absent from a polling site, they can request an absentee ballot. At the end of his statement, he said we’re fortunate that our lawmakers had the foresight in crafting our election laws to allow for times of being unavoidably absent, whether by natural disaster, war or global pandemic. So, does this give allowances for voters she requests absentee ballots because they want to avoid crowds during the pandemic, sir?
Governor Hutchinson [25:11]:
It certainly seems to indicate so to me. And so, Secretary Thurston by saying those that might be concerned about the pandemic and going to the polls, they would be unavoidably absent. And therefore, they would be in compliance and would be allowed to have an absentee ballot. And so, I want to have some further discussions on that, but if that is the interpretation, then that to me looks to me like that remedies the challenge that some of the voters were facing. So, we’ll have some more conversations, but we’re hopeful that might be able to address the problem. Because that’s the goal in my viewpoint, is to make sure that people have an opportunity to vote and they’re not prohibited from voting or they’d aren’t able to exercise their right to vote because of their concerns about the pandemic. We want voter integrity, but I believe our absentee law is consistent with that.
We are looking into the COVID situation at the Tyson plant in Van Buren. A woman who works the plant just passed away because of the virus, and employees at the plant are worried for their safety. My question is — what is being done about the conditions at the plant and protecting those safety of the employees?
Dr. Smith [26:54]:
I don’t have specific information on that plant. We have been working with poultry-related businesses to try and take measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their work sites. And again, the CDC team that we invited is also trying to give us additional information guidance on that. So, this is a situation we take very, very seriously — not just transmission at the work site, but also transmission in those communities where workers are coming from. And so, it does look like we’re having at least a plateauing of their number of new cases, but we’ll continue working on this until we actually see those cases decrease and hopefully stop altogether.
Mike McNeill with magnoliareporter.com [27:48]:
Dr. Smith, on Wednesday, you mentioned that the state planned on putting more resources into the new outbreaks at the prison in Malvern and also the Springs nursing home in Magnolia. I’m wondering if you would elaborate on what you mean by additional resources and when they will become available.
Dr. Smith [28:16]:
Thank you. That’s a very good question. In all these situations, when we’ve learned of cases in correctional facilities, we have immediately gone in and done rapid testing — well, we’ve tested the inmates and the staff who are involved in a short period of time as possible. And that’s what we’re doing. With the information that we receive from that testing, we are able to segregate those who are infected from those who are not infected. We’re also able to determine those who have been exposed from those who have not been exposed and make appropriate housing recommendations within the facility. In addition to the things that we have been doing, we are also scaling up our testing capability — have scaled up and continue to scale up our testing capability at the Arkansas Department of Health Public Health Laboratory, so that in those settings, we can go ahead and do those tests in our lab and get those results back within 24 hours. So you can understand, some of these facilities, there’s hundreds — and in cases some cases thousands — of inmates that need to be tested in a short period of time. We need to get that information back as soon as possible, in order to interrupt the transmission of COVID-19 as soon as possible. Another thing that we are doing is we are working to make those results available back to the to the correctional facilities in an electronic form so that they can make that information actionable as quickly as possible. So, these are some of the resources that we’re applying to that. And we continue to work very closely with the Department of Corrections. They’ve been excellent partners with us on this. And we’re identifying obstacles like the need for electronic reports and we’re taking action as quickly as possible.
Mike McNeill [30:14]:
How would that apply to a situation like what is occurring at The Springs of Magnolia?
Dr. Smith [30:28]
For the nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, same thing. Actually, what we’ve been doing and what we will complete tomorrow is our testing of all the nursing homes, all the long-term care facilities. Well, the nursing homes. We’ll continue to work on long-term care facilities other than nursing homes. We will have completed our roster tomorrow. Next week, we are going to go back if there are any facilities that were not able to complete their testing as scheduled. But we have been embarking this month on testing all of our nursing homes. We have identified some cases and places where we didn’t already know about them. But overall, fewer than 1% of those we’ve tested have tested positive. But this gives us the opportunity to intervene as early as possible and that’s been a big success. We’ll come back next weekend and give some final numbers.
Zuzanna Sitek with Ozarks at Large / KUAF [31:37]:
I have two questions that were brought up by concerned citizens. One is whether the health department would consider at all releasing COVID numbers by city. Some smaller municipalities are concerned that their residents are not taking this virus seriously because they’re just hearing the county numbers and not how many cases are actually within their cities. And then the other is — is the National Guard going ahead with training at Fort Chaffee next month in August, given the converging of thousands of people on Sebastian County, which is experiencing a spike in cases?
Governor Hutchinson [32:22]:
First of all, this training is very important. As you know, the National Guard carries out missions in terms of tornados, civil disorder, so their training is very, very important to our nation and to our state. And secondly, it is a decision that’s made by the National Guard Bureau in conjunction with our National Guard here, as well. And so, it’s not just simply a state decision making process. They did submit their public health plans to us. I reviewed those and they’ve taken extraordinary measures. They do have the PPE. They do have the cohorts, as dr. Romero said yesterday, which means that they’re put into units where they are isolated from contact with multiple other units so that, if there is a positive case, it’s easier to run that down. And so, they’re taking those steps, among others. And so I fully support it. We will watch it and we’ll continue. But the answer is yes, that does plan to continue on.
Dr. Smith [34:23]:
Yes, we are considering [releasing COVID-19 numbers by city]. There are some challenges, especially with smaller communities, in terms of confidentiality. But I think we can do that for most cases, unless it’s a very small community or a very small number of individuals. And I’ve already had some conversations this morning about moving forward with that. We just have to get it right. But certainly, we want to make sure that local leaders have all the information that they need to help make the case as well as possible in their cities and towns, just in a way that doesn’t compromise the identity of those who are suffering from COVID-19 infection.
We had an email from a viewer that says that they went to Washington Regional to get tested but they were turned away. So, we’re just trying to figure out how — what are the requirements? He was a 71-year-old man. So, we’re just trying to figure out what are the requirements for testing, why people are getting turned away, that kind of information.
Dr. Smith [35:53]:
Based on that information, I don’t know why someone would turn away in that case. I would need to know more details — and probably better addressed to Washington Regional. I know at the Washington County local health unit we do offer testing Monday through Friday. So, there are venues where people can get tested within that county.
Alex Burch [36:23]:
Dr. Fauci said today that contact tracing in our country is not going well. Would you agree with him for Arkansas?
Governor Hutchinson [36:30]:
I’ll give my perception on this, and the answer is no. I think it’s going well and it’s proving successful. Can we do it better? I believe we can. And particularly with the increased number of cases, we need to be able to enhance our resources, and that’s the reason for doubling the number of our contact tracers that we intend to bring on. So, that is a fundamental part of our strategy. It is working well. I think you can see some of the results of that, both in the nursing homes as well as what we have done in northwest Arkansas in trying to gain control of that.
Dr. Smith [37:18]:
I would agree with the governor’s statements. I think our contact tracing team — our case investigators and contact tracers — have done an amazing job, given the volume of new cases that they’ve had to deal with. And these are individuals who have really worked harder than anyone probably in the entire state, alongside with our care providers, to fight COVID-19 to limit the spread, to save lives. But as the number of cases increased, we have a greater need for well-trained, well-equipped contact tracers. That’s why we’ve requested these additional resources. Certainly wouldn’t have requested them if I felt like we were totally sufficient and totally adequate.
I wanted to clarify Little Rock’s order on masks, because it is quite a bit broader than what the state has in place. It requires [masks] inside supermarkets, private buildings, outside elevators. So, how is that different from Fayetteville’s ordinance?
Governor Hutchinson [38:35]:
It is a 12-page proclamation that’s been issued. I’ll let you analyze it for yourself. I’ve analyzed it. And again, by its own language, it is supportive of our state directives. And the state directives is what governs the state of Arkansas and the proclamation of the mayor — to his credit — recognizes that and submits to that. And in essence, as I read the proclamation, it is an encouragement to wear masks. That is the — actually one of the words used is exhortation. But it’s an encouragement to wear masks and I fully support that encouragement. It’s consistent with the guidelines that we’ve issued.
Note repeated, in case you missed it above: The emergency declaration does actually require masks in certain situations. Section 3.01 reads, “All members of the public, except as specifically exempted herein, are required to wear a face covering in all public places except when it is likely that physical distancing of at least six (6) feet from other individuals is practicable.” The exceptions in Sections 4 and 5 outline the exceptions, some of which appear to be those that would otherwise be restricting commerce. In those exceptions, the public is “exhorted to wear a Face Covering outside their home or other place they reside” by the Little Rock emergency declaration.
We’re monitoring the increase in cases in Sebastian County and Fort Smith. I know you guys are monitoring that as well. Can those cases be attributed to anything specifically at this time, i.e. poultry workers?
Governor Hutchinson [39:46]:
We are watching that closely. I was in Fort Smith, that area in the river valley — I believe was last week — and we had a conversation that their cases have been very low. We did expect that they would increase, and they’ve increased some. From what I see, it is simply a larger amount of testing we’ve done. We’ve been able to identify some specific cases, but I don’t have any particular group that that can be a traced to.
Dr. Smith [40:34]:
We’re still working on that. Obviously, from the cases in the last 24 hours, we have limited data. But what we do know is that that in Sebastian County, 82% of these new cases from the last 24 hours are in Fort Smith, and that these do tend to be a little bit younger than we’re seeing for the state as a whole. The average age is 31 years of age, which is younger than the average number of cases overall. But we’re still looking into that situation, trying to tie those together. We have had a few household clusters. But so far, I’m not aware of any clusters related to a particular activity or business.
Governor Hutchinson [41:20]:
With that, thank you. I hope everybody has a good and a safe weekend. And for all Arkansans, I would remind you that this is weekend time. Let’s not have a surge in cases because we’re not being careful. Let’s be careful. Let’s wear our masks. Let’s socially distance. Let’s follow the guidelines. And we’ll see everybody next Monday. Thank you.